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The Torture Memos and Academic Freedom UC Berkeley Law School

By Christopher Edley, Jr.  Posted by Ignacio Fresas (about the submitter)     Permalink       (Page 1 of 2 pages)
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Just a few days ago, Nearly 7,000 individuals responded to a call urging them to contact the University of California Berkeley Law School about Professor John Yoo.

Because of his direct involvement in the Bush administration's sanctioning of torture by U.S. interrogators, we asked for his dismissal. And it appears as if the outcry had an impact.

Pasted below is a response on the subject from Dean Christopher Edley, Jr., the man to whom E-mails were directed. Although he is refusing at this point to dismiss Professor Yoo, he did provide a long and thoughtful statement.

P.S. -- If you have not already sent an E-mail to Dean Edley and would like to do so, click on the following link:

http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/2165/t/1027/campaign.jsp?campaign_KEY=24188

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The Torture Memos and Academic Freedom

Christopher Edley, Jr.

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The Honorable William H. Orrick, Jr. Distinguished Chair and Dean

UC Berkeley Law School

While serving in the Department of Justice, Professor John Yoo wrote memoranda that officials used as the legal basis for policies concerning detention and interrogation techniques in our efforts to combat terrorism. Both the subject and his reasoning are controversial, leading the New York Times (editorial, April 4), the National Lawyers' Guild, and hundreds of individuals from around the world to criticize or at least question Professor Yoo's continuing employment at U.C. Berkeley Law School. As dean, but speaking only for myself, I offer the following explanation, although with no expectation that it will be completely satisfying to anyone.

Professor Yoo began teaching at Berkeley Law in 1993, received tenure in 1999, and then took a leave of absence to work in the Bush Administration. He returned in 2004, and remains a very successful teacher and prolific (though often controversial) scholar. Because this is a public university, he enjoys not only security of employment and academic freedom, but also First Amendment and Due Process rights.

It seems we do need regular reminders: These protections, while not absolute, are nearly so because they are essential to the excellence of American universities and the progress of ideas. Indeed, in Berkeley's classrooms and courtyards our community argues about the legal and moral issues with the intensity and discipline these crucial issues deserve. Those who prefer to avoid these arguments - be they left or right or lazy - will not find Berkeley or any other truly great law school a wholly congenial place to study. For that we make no apology.

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Did what Professor Yoo wrote while not at the University somehow place him beyond the pale of academic freedom today? Had this been merely some professor vigorously expounding controversial and even extreme views, we would be in a familiar drama with the usual stakes. Had that professor been on leave marching with Nazis in Skokie or advising communists during the McCarthy era, reasonable people would probably find that an easier case still. Here, additional things are obviously in play. Gravely so.

My sense is that the vast majority of legal academics with a view of the matter disagree with substantial portions of Professor Yoo's analyses, including a great many of his colleagues at Berkeley. If, however, this strong consensus were enough to fire or sanction someone, then academic freedom would be meaningless.

There are important questions about the content of the Yoo memoranda, about tortured definitions of "torture", about how he and his colleagues conceived their role as lawyers, and about whether and when the Commander in Chief is subject to domestic statutes and international law. We press our students to grapple with these matters, and in the legal literature Professor Yoo and his critics do battle. One can oppose and even condemn an idea, but I don't believe that in a university we can fearfully refuse to look at it. That would not be the best way to educate, nor a promising way to seek deeper understanding in a world of continual, strange revolutions.

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The dean's  last sentence should have the... by Archie on Tuesday, Apr 15, 2008 at 2:51:16 PM
Dean Edley's letter is a curiousity. Specifica... by Gustav Wynn on Tuesday, Apr 15, 2008 at 10:22:49 PM